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Bedlam follows release of new O’Hare night flight data

Sun-Times file photo

At a meeting cut short by angry outbursts from frustrated community members, city officials revealed Monday that 29 percent of overnight O’Hare Airport flights have not used runways specially selected to spread out night noise.

The results of the first five weeks of a six-month pilot program of night O’Hare runway use were discussed shortly before an O’Hare “Fly Quiet” Ad Hoc Committee descended into bedlam amid outbursts by members of the Fair Allocation in Runways coalition.

City officials walked through data from the first five weeks of a 25-week test of a plan to rotate night O’Hare runways each week to spread out jet noise. The results showed how often, between the hours of on average 11:11 p.m. and 5:42 a.m., flights were actually using designated runways.

Over that time, only 58 percent of overnight O’Hare flights used the “primary” runways listed in a new, six-month “Fly Quiet” schedule, hammered out after months of debate.

An additional 13 percent of flights used “secondary” runways listed on the schedule as a backup in the event of wind changes.

But the remaining 29 percent of flights on average did not occur on the primary or secondary runways listed in a published schedule, intended to give residents some predictability about when their sleep might be disrupted by O’Hare night flights.

City officials and their consultants had always warned that other runways might be needed because of weather conditions, hourlong nightly runway inspections, runway work or construction. Data discussed Monday gave residents their first inkling of how a published schedule of runway use might actually shake out.

Over the five-week period, as many as 15 flights in one week were allowed to use other runways, in many cases because they were heavy cargo planes that needed longer runways. Thunderstorms interfered another week. But one week, no requested pilot deviations from planned runways were allowed.

Asked if she had expected 29 percent of night flights to occur outside published runway predictions, Mount Prospect Mayor Arlene Juracek, chair of the O’Hare Noise Compatibility Commission, said commission members should “reserve judgment” about the rotation plan until all 25 weeks of data are in.

“That’s why it’s a 25-week test,’’ Juracek said.

Al Rapp, a member of FAIR and an advisory Fly Quiet committee member, accused Fly Quiet Chairman Joe Annunzio of running a “B.S. meeting” by not allowing several Federal Aviation Administration officials to answer Rapp’s night flight questions in public.

Instead, to conserve the committee’s time, Annunzio asked Rapp to read his questions into the record so they could be answered later. That not only angered Rapp but also FAIR member Don Walsh, who popped up from the audience to call out, “Let’s get people in front of the podium and answer questions.’’

In response, Annunzio called for adjournment, which triggered another wave of outcries from those who were unable to address the committee during public comment.

“We have a right to speak,’’ yelled Holly Reebie, of Glenview, who wanted to complain that the new night runway rotation program has left her with only about four hours of sleep over four of the last seven nights.

“I understand he [Rapp] was rude,” Reebie told Annunzio later. “But you in turn were disrespectful to people who gave up their time” to come to Monday’s meeting.

Annunzio personally apologized to Reebie, saying he felt he had to end the meeting because it was getting “out of hand.”

At one point, FAIR members got so noisy that Juracek threatened to call security if they did not leave peaceably.

“They were arguing with anyone in earshot,” Juracek explained later. “Rather than leave quietly, they continued to take shots at everyone.”

“It was toxic,’’ Bensenville Mayor Frank Soto, a Fly Quiet committee member, said later.

Juracek contended that FAIR members who caused a commotion at Monday’s meeting were being “obstinate” because they lost a bigger battle.

FAIR lost its crusade to keep two diagonal runways in the mix and has been warning that that if the six-month night-time pilot is extended, it will last only until 2018, when the final diagonal runway is set for demolition.

Rapp said he had asked in advance that the FAA be present at Monday’s meeting to answer questions. Without answers on the spot, Rapp said, “We know from experience it takes 90 days for the FAA to respond. That’s why I got upset.”

FAIR members said the meeting was orchestrated to leave little time for Rapp’s questions and to keep FAA answers off the public record. “There could have been a record and they did not want that to happen,” Walsh said.